February 25, 2021

Cárdenas, Bernice Johnson, Soto Introduce Legislation to Strengthen Mental Health Support for Communities of Color

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Representatives Tony Cárdenas (CA-29), Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX-30), and Daren Soto (FL-09) introduced the Strengthening Mental Health Supports for BIPOC Communities Act, legislation that aims to remove systemic barriers to mental health and emotional support services that Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities have historically faced. This bill amends the Public Health Service Act to make critical advancements in health equity for BIPOC communities by improving access to mental health services under the Community Mental Health Services Block Grant program.

“For too long, people have been battling mental illness alone. Right now, one in five adults and one in six children in America live with mental illness,” said Congressman Tony Cárdenas. “We know mental health conditions are underreported and untreated. We all know someone who is struggling, and everyone is either directly or indirectly affected by mental health disorders. While the percentage of people affected by mental health disorders is relatively the same across racial and ethnic groups, people of color are less likely to receive mental health treatment due to a lack of access to support services and cultural stigma. We must remove the stigma surrounding mental health from our communities and ensure that everyone has access to mental healthcare and to show those who are struggling that they are not alone.”

“As a former chief psychiatric nurse, I am especially concerned with how mental health disparities among communities of color have worsened because of the lack of culturally tailored resources,” said Congresswoman Johnson. “For that reason, I am proud to reintroduce the Strengthening Mental Health Supports for BIPOC Communities Act with my colleague Congressman Tony Cardenas. This critical legislation would improve our federal investments in mental health services specifically for minority communities across the country.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic and recent racial injustices have exposed long-standing and deeply rooted mental health disparities among communities of color,” said Congressman Soto. “Despite the challenges, cultural misconceptions, language barriers and underfunded programs have led many to underestimate the effects of mental health and the need for care. We are introducing this legislation to ensure states have the resources they need to provide culturally responsive mental health treatment to BIPOC communities. Together, we can break the barriers of stigma and historical adversity and ensure our communities thrive both physically and mentally.”


American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, California Hospital Association, Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), Mental Health America, Mission Community Hospital, San Fernando Community Health Center


The Strengthening Mental Health Supports for BIPOC Communities Act requires state plans for the federal Community Mental Health Services Block Grant program to report to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) information related to services provided to address health inequities within BIPOC communities and outcomes experienced, outreach to and hiring of BIPOC providers from multiple disciplines of mental health services, and training to providers on culturally and linguistically responsive services.

Nearly one in five American adults live with a diagnosable mental illness, but only 43 percent of these individuals receive treatment because of the barriers to access. These barriers disproportionately affect black and brown communities. While the prevalence rates of most mental disorders are similar across racial and ethnic groups, there are large inequities in diagnosis and treatment. Limited access to high quality culturally and linguistically responsive services, discrimination, diverse provider shortages, and cultural stigma surrounding mental healthcare all contribute to persistent inequities in behavioral health treatment. 

The Strengthening Mental Health Supports for BIPOC Communities Act was included as part of the Cárdenas HEART Package – a health equity legislative package to address racial and ethnic disparities – that was released earlier this month.

This week, Congressmembers Cárdenas, Katie Porter (CA-45), Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), and Mary Gay Scanlon (PA-05) introduced legislation to reduce violence against individuals with mental illness and disabilities. The Mental Health Justice Act would support the creation of mental health first responder units that would be deployed in lieu of law enforcement when 911 is called because an individual is in a mental health crisis. This bill would create a grant program to pay for hiring, training, salary, benefits and additional expenses for mental health provider first responder units. Grant recipients will receive technical assistance from experts through the Disability Rights Section of the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice (DOJ) and from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). States and localities that choose to use their own funding for program costs would also be able to apply for access to this expertise. Congressman Cárdenas sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Health Subcommittee.